Own Up, Who Dunnit?


Theatre Severn

1 May-5 May (Matinee 2.30 on 5th)

Gallowglass is a mixed bag. Great expense, great cast, great authoress, and a lavish set: So why were people coming out of the theatre at the end looking bemused? There is something not quite right about this show, it doesn’t sit well amongst other great crime dramas.

Written by Barbara Vine who is in fact Ruth Rendell, one can’t imagine why one might chose a non de plume only to put one’s own real name in bigger letters underneath on the program.  It baffles people. Ah well it is a mystery play after all.

The storyline starts with a man throwing himself off a station platform in front of the tube. However saved from his fatal leap by a man who just happens to be there he becomes the man’s servant or Gallowglass. The man who saved him just happened to be an obsessive kidnapper and he has the intention of kidnapping a rich woman. He enslaves the man and told him he was his Gallowglass.  “Right oh,”  said the Gallowglass and actually happily embraced the position whereas in reality the first chance of freedom anyone gets when enslaved, would be grabbed at with both hands. So the foundations are already shaking. The story continues but one will save the best of the story for you to go and see for yourself.

The set initially impressive soon becomes a bit of a bore for everyone concerned comprising two rooms of two houses and finally a hotel suite. This appeared to be a clever device as initially the drama passed fluidly between the two rooms. However a split set can and does create problems for audiences. For example if the action was stage left in one house then a split curtain would lower making one feel blind in one eye. So what seemed like a good idea became its own worst enemy.

For external scenes a gauze is lowered and images such as the stately home, the moving sea or a forest can be projected onto it and the actors would present their scenes in front of it. Initially the gauze seemed like a good idea but maybe somebody backstage left a door open as the screen started to wobble in the draft and the stately home becomes the first redbrick building ever to show an ability for dancing as the gauze blew in and out like an asthmatic concertina. What in the second act one wonders was the reason for occasionally leaving the gauze down and acting behind it? This was a strange choice as it made the room they were acting in appear smoke filled. Students of semiotics ( the study of signs used in theatre,) must have blown a fuse as there seemed no real reason to leave the gauze down at times. Maybe it was homage to London’s Burning, as the actor who played Sick Note in that series, is now in Gallowglass. Who knows?

There were some avoidable and clumsy mistakes.  One cannot announce that the three ice creams that were bought in the course of the action, had chocolate and strawberry sauce on them. They hadn’t or it would have been running all over the girl’s hand. Plus the audience could see the ice creams, there was no sauce on them so why make such a clumsy error? Maybe in bigger theatres one cannot see the ices as plain as the Shrewsbury audience could. It was a line that could be dispensed with and it wouldn’t affect the plot one bit.

In truth this show could do with dispensing quite a bit of the unnecessary clutter and come off none the worst for it.

The director Michael Lunney made some strange decisions in the creation of his characters. He overuses the idea of gesture. Principal character Sandor’s hands move so fast when he spoke they became a blur. One felt some of the actors didn’t know where to put their hands so used them in massive gestures. Too much pointing to things that aren’t there can become incredibly tiresome and in fact distracts the audience and can have a detrimental effect to the overall show.

The emotion spectrum is traversed rapidly as characters seem to go from mill pond calm to torrential anger with no middle ground on the way. Several times the cast shouted to demonstrate their anger. Everyone knows it is the quiet ones you watch.

When the curtain fell for half time interval the audience didn’t realise for a moment or two that the act was finished. Then awkward tentative applause seeped out like gas under a door and one could hear people saying how confused they felt and how they didn’t realise the act was over. It was difficult to tell.

This is the first whodunit play one has ever seen with two denouements. There is an extra final scene when maybe the curtain should have fallen. One felt it should have ended, instead there is another scene that quickly sweeps up all the unanswered questions through the medium of television news. By this time maybe one had past caring what happened to everyone else and again the show would not have suffered for the scenes deletion. This is akin to the banana problem, meaning the man who invented the word banana just didn’t know when to put his pen down.

The acting overall was pretty good arm waving notwithstanding, even so the material didn’t allow them to shine. Again the director encourages larger than life voices and some actors were dangerously balancing on one leg on the wall of the ham factory.

This is a big show it does things that other big shows do. It has a sterling cast of television and film actors it is based on a famous story from the pen of Ruth Rendell, it has spent money and everyone has worked exceptionally hard one is aware of all that. However it just isn’t the best show in the world.

This is a Three Star Review

Owen J.Lewis


Sofia Lewis Sofia Lewis
For many years Sofia wrote here under her male name Owen J. Lewis. She is now mostly writing under her own name of Sofia Lewis. Sofia, who worked on independent radio for over ten years, lives in Shrewsbury and writes plays. She has over 15 titles published and her plays are performed all over the world. She is especially popular in America. Her poetry is also often noted and she writes reams of it most weeks. Since graduating in theatre in 1997 Sofia has been an Actor, Filmmaker, and a Secondary School Teacher. Reviewing theatre is something she thoroughly enjoys and she loves to see great theatre. As a musician Sofia is known throughout the UK she is a folk singer, and is often seen or heard around her native county singing and having fun. Sofia has contributed to loveshrewsbury.com for over a decade and enjoys sharing her views on theatre. Sofia has one daughter and grew up in Church Stretton.

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